I’ve literally had a hell of a week–spent half of Sunday in the ER for heart attack symptoms that turned out to be just acid reflux brought on by an antibiotic prescribed for a tooth infection, and now the dentist won’t even pull the tooth because he’s afraid of being sued. So yeah, I’m in pain and furious right now, and it’s triggered some exploration of things that have been bothering me for a while now.)
This is not going to be a popular post, but it’s something I think I’m finally ready to speak about, two years or so after it happened. I won’t be naming names because that isn’t the point of this post. My right to my own creativity on both a spiritual and crafting level IS.
Some backstory, in case you’re new here or might have forgotten. From 2002 onward, I’ve been deeply involved with the Norse god Odin (never mind whether or not I knew him earlier under a different name and “mask”; that’s also not the point here)—so much so that I used to describe the relationship as a spiritual marriage. Increasingly as time went on, I saw more and more people online begin to describe their relationships with their own Beloved deities in similar terms. This is great; this is more than great. I thought so then and I still do—even when the deity in question ALSO happened to be Odin. (Which happened a lot, by the way.)
Year by year, I immersed myself further into the relationship as it not only continued to grow but also as my Work with him became more and more defined and specific. And all along, I shared my experiences with what I considered to be my religious community, both locally and online. I carried a god-shrine on my back (literally, via a Greyhound bus since I don’t drive) to a heathen gathering; I faced down neo-Nazis at a moot; I volunteered as a local organizer and conducted public rituals; I invited people into my home; I wrote two books; and I blogged and blogged and blogged about Odin and my relationship with him.
But the most vulnerable and personal information of all I reserved for a small group of women I considered my friends, people I conversed with in a secret Facebook group about our various deity relationships. Most of these women were closely involved with Apollon; as time went on, though, a couple of them began to talk about having a connection with Odin as well. Again, that’s okay; I think it’s something that naturally happens when people begin to share notes about deities. There were also a couple of confirmed Lokeans, which was neat because Odin and Loki have a pretty close relationship too.
The trouble started, I think, when I began to talk very specifically—both on my blog and (especially) within the group—about my own very unique and idiosyncratic path with Odin, which was forged with him via years of trance experience, divination, and UPG. In retrospect, I know it was a mistake to reveal so much about so personal a path, but at the time it was a relief to be able to share, to compare notes with people on their own UPG-led paths. I was pretty sure my specific path was unique to me; at least, I had not heard anyone talk about having this exact path with Odin before (and I was in on a lot of Odin-related internet conversations back then). It was very specifically bound up with my role as a sacred queen in relation to the Wild Hunt, alongside him, and his role as a god of death and creation—and there were even more personal details beyond that, which I revealed only within my group of friends.
I thought I was safe in sharing this stuff, because not only was it so “off-canon” from the lore understanding of Odin, but it was as individual to me (I thought) as my fingerprint. But then one day one of my “friends” in the group (who had described herself as a “Loki-spouse” to that point) announced that Odin had come to her, “whipped it out,” (being vulgar here, but this is the language she used) and let her know that she would be replacing me as his consort in the particular and specific role I had with him, and that I had in confidence described to her, from that point onward. She also had a message for me from Odin about why this was okay and I needed to accept it, which she relayed to me without my consent.
I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail beyond this, but as you might imagine, things went rapidly downhill from there. I quit the group immediately, unfriended its members, and for a while refused to discuss why. (Eventually, the details came out, but I was too angry at the time to talk about them. The fact that I did not became an excuse for the others not to defend my position, of course.) Intellectually and rationally, I didn’t believe this woman for a second that Odin would treat me that way or say the things she claimed he had, but certain types of things do get under your skin (especially if you are someone who, like me, has a history of emotional abuse and finds it very hard to believe she could really be worth anything at all, even—or especially–to a deity), and this is one of them. From that point on, my burnout with Odin, my path, and paganism in general began, and continually spiraled downward. I felt angry and betrayed—but even more than that, I felt stripped of my personhood in some essential way that I couldn’t even describe. It was as if I had stood between this woman and something she had decided she wanted (my own specific spiritual path, which had taken me more than a decade to build) and in order to make it okay for her to have that thing, she decided that I wasn’t a person, that I didn’t matter. And further, that it was okay for her to “channel” my god to reinforce this same message.
I’ve never spoken openly about this publicly before because I felt sick, disheartened, and honestly didn’t want to go into it. So why am I bringing it up now? To call attention to the fact that this kind of thing does happen in polytheist communities, that having our private communications data-mined and our personal paths co-opted may well be the reason so many of us “old timers” fall silent, become disillusioned, and refuse to help new seekers anymore. (Notice how much of the former “god spouse community” seems to have just evaporated in the past couple of years? This is why if you want my help with god spouse stuff you now have to purchase a reading or become a $50 per month Patreon supporter—because then at least I’m getting to pay a bill or two and help support my family in return for it.) But I’m also bringing it up to draw a parallel and make a point.
Since 2011 (which is a while now) I have been a pagan artisan and shop keeper, as many of you know. I have, for years now, made a pretty wide variety of different items, including candles, prayer beads, jewelry, and so forth—all designed for and geared towards the use of polytheists like me. I have developed my own style, which is pretty recognizable and unlike anyone else’s, and I don’t decide to go after anyone’s livelihood by reproducing their products (see below for how I define “reproducing”), because I know how it feels to be stripped of personhood, and I know that for many makers (including me) our identity and sense of personhood is very bound up with the original things we make and with our own artistic flair in making them. That said, I’m also on Instagram and see a LOT of people claiming that “so and so [lots of other shopkeepers] stole from me [fill in name of accuser here]”–and then you look and the actual products look nothing alike, other than maybe being in the same general category of Thing. (Such as malas, or prayer beads, or crystal pendants, or cute polymer clay figures—even things where there is only but so much possible variation, such as candles, for fuck’s sake.) And there is so much indignation and hatred in these accusations—which I could completely understand if the actual products looked anything alike or had anything in common, other than being the same TYPE of thing.
The pagan and crafting communities generally jump in with both feet to support the people who cry theft, and often refuse to buy from the alleged “thieves” from that point onward, sometimes even calling them out on their own Instagram posts. (I have seen the same thing happen on YouTube as well in the pagan and crafting communities, though usually without names being named.)
At this point, I have been accused of “stealing” someone else’s product-related ideas or concepts twice. First, it was by a stranger, regarding simple prayer bead strands with mass-produced components, which I had been making and selling on and off since about 2014, and which she had just begun making in 2017 as far as I could tell. (I do try to rotate the types of things I offer in my shop because at a certain point all of my existing customers have bought the thing—so sales stop—and I will bring products back in when it seems like there might be new people around to buy. The only thing I intentionally “copied” here was the price point, since it’s important to be able to keep your items competitive in the race-to-the-bottom atmosphere of Etsy. I also saw about three other shops offering similar bead sets at the same time; whether they were “copying” her or me, I have no idea but I did not confront them or ask. But in retrospect I can understand her perspective and I wish I had made more of an effort to come up with something completely new that other people weren’t already offering—even though, as I’d been making them years beforehand and then stopped for a while, I did feel I had a certain right to begin offering them again if there was again a market for them.)
More recently, the accusation came from a former friend (from that same secret Facebook group mentioned above); this time, it WAS a new TYPE of product for me but neither the concept nor the name was original to HER. (The item in question is a long-established facet of Hindu religious culture, in addition to already having been offered for sale regularly by a mutual acquaintance of us both on Etsy—under the exact same product name–going back about two years). Since I knew going into offering this item that it might be a sensitive subject, I went to great lengths to ensure that my version looked completely different from those that both of the other shop keepers had offered. Despite this, I was immediately called out by the newer shop keeper/former friend and some of her friends, and overnight lost about $85 in much-needed Patreon support. (In addition to which, she shared a nasty diatribe about me with her FB friends, which was quietly making the rounds out of sight and poisoning peoples’ opinions of me.)
Again, I am not writing this post to rehash, stir up drama, or go into sordid detail about people I’ve had online altercations with. I personally don’t accept that either of the examples given above equated to “theft” on my part. (For example, when my store became successful in 2015, a few people in my online social circle decided to launch their own similar shops, offering items very much like mine; this caused me to lose business because the polytheist market is a fairly small one, and yet I never called anyone out or said a word about it because WFT? There is only so much variation possible when you are using mass-produced components, and only so many different versions of religious jewelry people can make.) Having said that, if any of my actions truly made anyone else feel robbed of their identity, creativity, or personhood, I am truly sorry, as that was never my intention. I admit, at this point I am a bit shell-shocked on the whole endeavor of making—which is sad, because making has pretty much defined my life for about ten years now; but right now, I’m actually afraid to design new products, on the off-chance that someone out there who I barely or don’t even know might feel I’ve stepped on their toes and call me out in public as a thief. At the same time, I am absolutely indignant and disgusted to find that I feel this way, because essentially not designing anything new means I am ceding my right to create to other people, which amounts to surrendering my personhood once again.
However, I have a few points I would like to make to set straight my own position on this whole subject of “theft”. (And this is why I related my spiritual history and the story of my burnout before even going into the “maker” aspect of this.)
I realize some people may disagree with some or all of this, but as far as I’m concerned:
Making a product that is in the same general category as something someone else makes is not theft. (You are not a thief if you decide to start making wood-wicked container candles or prayer beads; lots of people make these things. You might want to steer clear of making them with the exact same original name and scent blend or gemstone choices and pattern as others you’ve seen though—see below.)
Making a product that has a historical precedence within a particular culture (such as a traditional Hoodoo recipe that’s readily available, or a recipe included in the Bible) is not theft—as long as you stick with the traditional recipe and production method and/or your OWN variations to it, not someone else’s.
Making a product with the same name as someone else’s product (if we’re talking descriptive or traditional names, such as “prayer beads” or “icon adornment” as opposed to original and catchy names, such as “Shadow of the Moon Prayer Beads” or “Eclectic Statue Bling”) is not theft either. Especially if the artistic style is different, which it generally will be since each PERSON is different.
Intentionally copying someone else’s ORIGINAL, never-before-done work, down to their exact style—yes, I could see an argument for this being considered theft. However, this has ALSO been done to me on Etsy (see above) and again, I never called anyone out because there are too many variables involved–mostly, that intentional theft is harder to make a case for when using mass-produced components that anyone can purchase. On the other hand, reproducing hand-produced clay figures or original drawings, for example, WOULD be theft, especially if you are selling them, because in this case you are actually co-opting someone’s creative process and artistic talent, which amounts to a piece of their soul.
Along similar lines on the spiritual front…
Worshiping the same deity does not equal theft. (Are we even kidding here?)
Being “married” or otherwise devoted in a close and personal way (such as considering a deity to be your parent) does not equal theft, even if you had no idea such an approach to worship was possible before reading someone’s blog post.
However, consciously deciding to co-opt the VERY specific and unique personal spiritual path of someone WHO YOU PERSONALLY KNOW, and whose private deity relationship and path details you have been privvy to—FUCK YES, THIS IS THEFT, and I’m no longer afraid to say it. And when it happened to me, no one—NO ONE, even in my tight little circle (other than my wife, of course)—cried theft or came to my defense.
In fact, it’s extremely odd to me that this does not seem to register as theft for most people, especially considering how sensitive and how quick to accuse they are when it comes to intentional or accidental imitation in the creative sphere. I’m not usually one to go off on anti-capitalist tangents. HOWEVER, the fact that accidentally producing a similar physical object, made completely from cheap mass-produced components, would be widely considered theft, and that the SAME PEOPLE see nothing wrong with someone’s entire spiritual path and identity, forged over a decade, being co-opted and stolen by one of their friends—this is, to me, as damning a condemnation of capitalism as I’ve ever heard. Because it’s all about the money, right? And about the scarcity fears that there isn’t enough money, or enough business, to go around for everyone. The idea that your actions might steal someone’s unique spiritual message or reason for being—their entire reason for being on their path…This never seems to be considered. If it’s a unique spiritual perspective or approach, it’s okay to argue that you were simply “inspired” by the person—because no matter how much of themselves went into weaving their specific path, since it isn’t material goods, something you could potentially make money from, it can’t possibly be theft if you decide to take that for yourself, right?
And that’s what I’ve got for today. I’m just putting this out here because I’m so completely fed up with this whole mindset, and I realize that I’m going to have to come to terms with my feelings about it if I a) want to continue making and selling products and b) want to continue as a public pagan at all. Again, I’m disheartened and sickened that I am even thinking about giving up either or both (I am considering and researching things to make that have nothing to do with either paganism or jewelry, for example; I am also considering NOT making to sell at all, and finding some other work from home gigs that don’t involve public contact—neither of which are what I REALLY want to do with the rest of my life), but there it is and now you know. This is why we can’t have nice things.